Published on 12/31/2012
However, I suspect there are many of you who are still wondering what the true purpose of strategic planning is and are putting the finishing touches on your organization’s strategic plan, either because you are awaiting final year-end numbers to validate your 2012 objectives, your board didn’t meet in December to approve the plan, or the executive team got sidetracked by the budget process. Perhaps the purpose of strategic planning has been lost on you, and your organization is just going through the motions.
Purpose of Strategic Planning: Your Six-Point Plan
Regardless of whether you have finished the strategic planning process, resolve to build accountability into this year’s plan. Assuming you use the standard business school strategic planning model of goals, objectives, strategies, and tactics, and that your organization has quantifiable and measurable 2012 objectives, as well as strategies and tactics designed to achieve those objectives, here then is a six-point plan that will elevate the purpose of strategic plan to one of accountability:
- Make sure each 2013 objective is assigned to a single senior leader in the organization. The purpose of strategic planning is to have objectives are the lifeblood of the plan; they should be “owned” by your senior-most executives — not middle managers. And they should be assigned to single individuals, not a team of executives. At the end of the day, you want to know who is ultimately responsible for an objective. Individual ownership breeds accountability; team ownership does not. And if you think that because yours is a large, complex organization, you are forced to have shared objectives, then understand that this is just the culture of your organization talking.
- Make sure every strategy and tactic has a very specific completion date. Second quarter is not specific. Neither is June 2013. However, June 18, 2013, is. And unless your organization’s leadership team routinely works weekends and holidays (which I doubt they do), make sure completion dates don’t fall on any of these days. In addition, the completion date for any strategy should be the latest completion date of the tactics that make up that strategy. When working through your strategic planning process, know that a strategy is nothing more than the sum of the tactics that comprise it. When the tactics are completed, the strategy is completed. Period. The purpose of strategic planning is to have clearly defined deliverables, and having everything has due dates is a step in that direction.
- Make sure every strategy and tactic is assigned to someone in management. Like strategic planning objectives, the purpose of strategic planning is to assigned plan elements to single individuals, not teams of people. Even if a team is required to execute a strategy or tactic, one person will be designated the team leader. This is the person who should have strategic planning responsibility. Don’t ever assign strategies and tactics to non-management staff. This is a recipe for failure
- Monitor strategic planning due dates. Develop a system for notifying people when they have a strategic planning strategy or tactic coming due. Let them know how to report the status of their activity, and whom to report it to. And when they are late, let the executives in your organization know. Implementing strategies and tactics on time should not be optional; it should be required. The purpose of strategic planning is to maintain a robust execution management system.
- Create an easy-to-understand dashboard system to monitor your organization’s strategic planning objectives. The purpose of strategic planning is to include early-warning flags that alert the organization when an objective is in jeopardy. This will help your strategic planning team assess whether the strategies and tactics were ill-conceived, or just poorly executed. Devise a scoring system that shows the success of the plan. My favorite methodology is to use a 100-point system in which meeting the objectives is 75% of the score and completing the strategies and tactics on time is 25% of the score. Scoring makes communications easy, as people inherently know that a strategic plan score of 88.5 is much better than a score of 72.6. And while you’re at it, establish a score you are aiming for — for instance, 90.0 (if you ever achieve a perfect score of 100.0, I would argue that your plan was soft).
- If possible, incentivize your management team on the success of the strategic plan. Align management bonuses to the plan, either as a team or as individuals. There are pros and cons of each. Strategic planning incentives that are based on individual contributions to the strategic plan provide your team with intense focus, but it can also create silos. On the other hand, awarding the entire team equally on strategic planning performance might create a culture of teamwork and camaraderie, but it can also breed contempt, as the bottom performers receive rewards equal to the organization’s star achievers. I’ve seen both models work, depending on the organizational culture at hand.
Follow this six-point plan, and you will find that the purpose of strategic planning becomes one of accountability in your organization.